I was standing in front of the boardroom, my last slide up on the screen. Everyone knew what was coming.
“Is that all you marketing $#*!s know how to do,” my CEO lashed out, “cut prices?” He was fuming.
“No, that’s not all I know how to do,” I said. “But I do know that, if we don’t do it, we’re both going to be out looking for a job.”
It took courage to propose what I knew would unhinge our famously mercurial and intimidating CEO. Likewise, it took courage for him to listen and ultimately agree to do something that was as foreign to him as dry land is to fish.
As leadership attributes go, courage is a big one. It comes from facing and overcoming fear. And the reward for that effort couldn’t be bigger. Courage is what enables leaders to …
Follow your gut when everyone tells you you’re crazy. Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin spent years trying to get anyone who would listen to invest in their idea of a dedicated search company. In spite of all the rejection, they never gave up.
Take risks with big downsides and no safety net. Every small-business owner knows exactly what that feels like. It’s scary. It keeps you up at night. It’s also a key to success.
Deliver bad news. One of the hardest things for any boss to do is tell employees, customers or investors what they don’t want to hear.
Face your critics and listen openly to what they have to say. You can do that only if your courage and humility outweigh your ego and hubris.
Act on your beliefs, knowing it may cause you pain. When Whole Foods CEO John Mackey wrote The Whole Foods Alternative to ObamaCare, he knew he risked alienating customers. Indeed, many boycotted the supermarket chain.
Take on bigger, better-funded competitors. All over the world, thousands of CEOs, founders and business owners do that every day.
Look in the mirror and confront what you see. As Henry David Thoreau said in Walden, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” So many of us live in denial because we’re afraid to see ourselves for what we really are.
Challenge your comfort zone and face your fear. An associate of mine was so shy as a child, he nearly passed out when he had to speak in class. Now he’s a CEO. Likewise, I had a terrible fear of public speaking. But I faced and overcame my fear, as did he.
Here’s the thing. You’re not born with courage. It comes from experience. Every time you face fear, you build confidence and courage. No matter the outcome, it’s never as bad as your fear makes it out to be.
On the flip side, every time you give in to fear, that reinforces it. Sooner or later, you simply run out of opportunities to face your fears. And that leads to regret.
That’s sort of the basis for FDR’s famous line, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
Facing fear and thwarting regret have always been powerful motivators for me. Why, I’m not exactly sure. But I do know it’s served me well over the years.
Another thing I can tell you is this: We all have the same potential to overcome fear and build courage. What you do with that potential is entirely up to you.
Image credit The U.S. Army via Flickr
A version of this originally appeared on Inc.